A few weeks ago one of my nearest and dearest unveiled a cancer diagnosis. The bomb exploded via a text message while I was still in bed, early one morning. With her living in New York and me in Hong Kong the time difference means that most of our communication is done via text message and Whatsapp, until we can both coordinate a time for a phone call or Skype.
After a few more days of tests and results, it was confirmed that she was had with Hodgkins Lymphoma and would need to move back to Sydney to start chemotherapy immediately.
The journey from “I have a pain in my neck and arm” to “you have cancer” was short and far from sweet. Before I blinked she had endured her first round of chemo and was gearing up several more to come. Her daily routine sounded more like that of a pin cushion in a Bangkok tailor rather than the life of a beautiful, successful, young woman.
I work for a cancer related organisation. I write public education articles on breast cancer, brain tumors, lung, cervical, colon, liver, and stomach cancer. Every day I am researching Leukemia, Hodgkin’s, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I am interviewing survivors, newly diagnosed, doctors, nurses, care givers, friends and family members of those touched by cancer.
I can rattle off statistics like; “2,900 people are diagnosed with cancer in Hong Kong every year.” I can tell you that the most common form of cancer in women is breast cancer with approximately 8 diagnosed every day. But what I couldn’t tell you before is how it actually feels to have someone you love so much diagnosed with something so cruel and unforgiving. It’s a strange and difficult place to be in, trying to answer questions like ‘why’, when the answer doesn’t appear to have a rhyme or reason.
It’s a hard realization when you decide that the only thing in this world that doesn’t discriminate is vile, sneaky and unwelcome. It is spirit shattering and feels similar to a morbidly obese man sitting on your chest, holding down your arms and legs while you watch a freight train come screaming towards you. Overly dramatic? Sorry.
You find yourself in a constant state of moaning “it’s not fair” and “why her” but winging invariably gets you nowhere. She is still booked in for chemo. She is still going to be tested, tired and feeling unwell. Her diary is still going to be full of trips to the hospital and rounds of treatment, injections to promote white blood cell count, juicing, nutrition, and diet dos and don’ts. Alternative therapies, complementary therapies, second opinions and head scarves. For a 25 year old model living her life at Ferrari speed, this kind of shit is hard to swallow.
However, having to deal with all of that is not even REMOTELY the most astounding thing about it all. The most gob-smacking, jaw dropping and remarkable aspect of this whole journey for me so far? It’s the strength of my friend. From thin air, she has produced a set of balls that constantly have me in awe. She swings them around like nobody’s business, making plans and just handling it! Yeah sure, she drops her bundle every now and then, but it’s less than fleeting and I would be concerned if she didn’t.
On a day to day basis she fronts up to the party with the same outlook on life as she did before, with the same tenacity and resolve that would make any Taurus weak at the knees. Her jokes are still terrible but you can’t really help that and I doubt it will change, but her motivation and her ability to look past this moment, to life beyond the now is an addictive show to watch.
For her the most frustrating part of this ride is not the fatigue, the waves of nausea, the pain, trips to the oncologist, chemo, blood tests and that she has to repeat her story 100 times a day. It’s the fact that she can’t physically do as much as she is used to. Her life is on hold briefly and she has no other choice right now than to just suck it up and do what she has to do. For someone that struggles to sit still in a movie, this is no mean feat. Patience is a virtue and an asset that she’s never really had time to acquire.
I have met with many cancer patients that have this “im just dealing with what is in front of me right now” attitude and that’s great…for them. My mate is dealing with what’s in front of her all while making plans for yonder; nothing in cement but only because she has never put anything in indelible ink (“shit happens, things change”). She’s looking at this ‘chapter’ as something to grow from and something that will soon be in the archives, which is one of the most mature and rational things I have ever witnessed.
To be honest, I wouldn’t have expected anything less, but it is pacifying to watch and makes me a proud friend knowing that she’s got this covered!
Ill leave you now with some wise words from one of my favorite philosophers;
“You’re off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”
– Dr. Seuss